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I am nuts about Salvias,
especially the species adapted to drier conditions, like the ones below. It's probably the genus I collect more than- what am I talking about? Definitely got more species of Salvia than anyting else. And without even trying, my collection recently got bigger since the Botony Syndicate reclassified Rosmarinus (rosemary) and Perovskia (Russian SAGE, right?) as salvias.

There's so much to like. Want a tiny ground cover? a sprawly bushy monster? a demure shrublet? fragrant foliage? edible leaves? superfood seeds? flowers in almost any color? happy hummingbirds? There's a 'salve-ia' for whatever ails ya.

While not quite as show-offy as their cloud forest relatives, these water-wise species are assets for any Western garden with adequate sun and drainage. There are plenty for wetter conditions and even some shade, but these beauties are good for most conditions in Northern California. This is only my first article on Salvias, and like a hummingbird, I'll be returning to them again and again. After the pictures, I list a few favorite resources.

Salvia canariensis

These can become big aromatic monsters if

you don't keep up with regular pruning, but they do

grow quickly and smell like Vicks Vaporub. Fuzzy,

silver, arrow-shaped foliage; skycraping inforescences

and persistant colorful calyxes distinguish this

plant all year long. Give it a hard pruning

at least annually for better shaping.


Salvia reptans

At right is my preferred version, 'West Texas form',

introduced to me by Digging Dog , and which I've seen

sold as 'Blue Willow sage'. And what an amazingly intense

shade of blue. The tiny flowers are delicately cast over long

willowy wands that wave in the breeze, so while the color

is bold, it's never overpowering. In Sebastopol I com-

bined it with a Helianthus that blooms at the same

time. This airiest of salvias is an essential

element for the California Cottage style.

Salvia apiana

The sacred white sage used in First People's culture

originates in southern climes but with great drainage and

disciplined watering, I've had sucess with it in the San Fran-

cisco garden on the left, even with less than ideal sun. The

scent of this plant acts like human catnip for me, and not

just me according to all the broken off branches, but I

can't get too mad. Tall, elegant spires of white flo-

wers and bees grace this grey sage in Summer.

Salvia 'Alan Chickering'

another mood enhancing fragrance, if someone would

just bottle it, but then maybe it wouldn't be as special; the

gentle rubbing of the leaves is part of the ceremony. This

hybrid of two native species is one of the best loved, and

besides that scent and its tough demeanor, like a lot

of sages, the inflorescence reamains an ornament

while it stands like a light house summoning

seed-eating birds back when it's time to

feast. The violet-blue color of the

flowers glows in low light. 

Salvia mellifera

Common in our Californian chapparal, Black sage is

another plant important to First People's culture, and

to the pollinators and birds that enjoy its bounty. In this

Napa garden I prune it to bring light to its exposed

structure, which like other woody species, ages

to a gnarly, bonsai-like texture that brings a

well-earned patina of age to the garden. 

Salvia resources:

'The Plant Lover's Guide to Salvias' by John Whittlessy, published by Timber Press.

Flowers by the Sea - on-line nursey on the Mendocino coast.

Cal Flora Nursery - friendly place with plenty of hard to find non-Salvia treasures.

Las Pilitas Nursery - on-line (for now) nursery for California native plants in the Central Coast, very informative, in-depth website.